Director/Choreographer: Austin McCormick
Reviewer: Jamie Rosler
Snow White is the final production in Company XIV’s 2015-2016 season, and it has all the sparkle and spectacle that their audiences have come to expect from their work. Taking a story we know and turning it into a neo-burlesque visual fantasy is Austin McCormick’s forte, and he does not shy away from his company’s strengths. As an artist whose work combines the performing and the visual arts, McCormick pushes the envelope of discernible meaning with some of his choices. Is there supposed to be a discernible meaning, or is it just about the sparkle and spectacle? Does that even matter? As with most creative endeavors, one could make a strong argument that it does not.
Drawing from the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White, there is more focus on the evil Queen – Die Königin—than there is on Snow White—Schneewittchen. The Queen makes several attempts to have Snow White killed or to accomplish it herself, but Snow White is saved every time, by the Queen’s huntsman, the dwarfs, and then the Prince—Der Prinz—who finds her in a glass coffin. Narrating primarily in German connects this production more directly to its source materialand relies heavily on the assumption that we are familiar [enough] with the story, and do not need to be led explicitly through the main plot points. Luckily that is an accurate [enough] assumption, as this production strays from the main story so often that it could be hard to follow if we were less familiar with it.
This is a busy production. There are dance numbers with headless mannequins, a hat in the shape of a ship, projections, puppetry, projections of puppetry, and an overpowering amount of back-lighting. An effective design choice when used sparingly or with purpose, McCormick and lighting designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew light at least half of this production from behind, minimizing the audience’s ability to see the dancers dance. For a dance company, that’s problematic. Also, for anyone sitting in a particular section of house right seating, there are whole portions of the show that can’t be watched because looking at the stage means looking directly into two large spotlights pointing at you with white or red light (the latter of which is slightly easier to manage). As alluded to earlier, the lack of clarity when it comes to the meaning behind some of the onstage choices is perfectly acceptable, if the choice is engaging, interesting to watch, and not impossible to see.
From a feminist perspective, there are some pointed and humorous moments, the occasional self-aware wink to the audience, but it’s hard to take a story about female beauty as one’s sole asset (and simultaneously as a life-threatening danger), and make it modern and progressive. It still ends in Snow White’s marriage to a man that she doesn’t really know, and whose interest in her seems only to be because he found her resting beautifully and inactively in a glass coffin designed to show off her enduring attractiveness. In one of the ostensibly lighter parts of the show, when the Queen’s weapon of choice is a too-tight corset that ultimately strangles Snow White, the musical accompaniment is a song from the mid-20th Century entitled A Corset Can Do A Lot For A Lady, and that’s a funny choice.
As Company XIV’s shows all are, Snow White is a fun theatrical night out for adults. It offers up song and dance from various styles, times, and genres, mixed with elaborate costumes, sparkly pasties, and impressive aerial stunts. There are a few moments that tip over into excess, and that takes into consideration that excessive is this company’s moderate. Go to the theatre prepared for a light-hearted, sexy good time, making sure that you don’t sit house right, in line with the upstage spotlights, and you will leave the theatre content with your experience.
Runs until 12 March 2016 | Mark Shelby Perry